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Jon Gruden calls out Falcons' offensive line; GM Dimitroff backs group

With the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles set to open ESPN's Monday Night Football on Sept. 14, it's only natural for analyst Jon Gruden to keep a close eye on the Falcons in preparation for the opener.

So when Gruden was asked during a conference call Wednesday about the shaky offensive line play this preseason and if one team stood out more than any other, his response wasn't all that surprising based on last week's preseason games.

"I don't want to be the negative dark shadow, but watching the Atlanta Falcons over the last couple of days, I hope that they're better than they played against Miami," Gruden said. "They've got to play better to get this running game going; to get this quarterback to a level where he can play at.

"I think there are a number of offensive lines that I've seen this year that have to play better. But I would call out Atlanta first because I've studied them the most."

Prior to those statements, Gruden talked about how dynamic the combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones could be this season, provided the line holds up.

"You know it can be lethal," Gruden said of Ryan-to-Jones connection. "Julio Jones is one of the top three or four receivers in the game. If Roddy [White] is healthy, he's obviously proven he's 1,000-yard receiver. But you say 'If they can run the ball.' They haven't run the ball very well in a long time. They didn't run it well in the three preseason games I've looked at. And they haven't been committed to running it, either. And their offensive line right now has a lot to prove.

"Those are two big ifs, but if they can pass block and run block and run the ball, Matt Ryan and these receivers can rip you. They're very talented."

The running game hasn't gotten going this preseason with starter Devonta Freeman sitting out the first three preseason games coming off a hamstring strain and No. 2 back Tevin Coleman making just one appearance last week against Miami while coming off his own hamstring injury. Not to mention explosive No. 3 running back Antone Smith also is out with a hamstring injury.

Plus the line has had too many different combinations to really get a flow going. And then last week in Miami, the line took a significant step back against what might be the most dominant defensive front in the league, led by Ndamukong Suh.

To make matters worse, there is some uncertainty about the status of the line's anchor, left tackle Jake Matthews, coming off a back strain apparently suffered in Miami.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff addressed the line during an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio Wednesday night.

"I feel confident with the way our coaching staff is putting things together," Dimitroff said. "This is a really interesting scheme, offensively. I think it's a very effective scheme with the outside zone run game. I think we have the athletes along the offensive line who are able to accomplish what we're looking for. And again, I think it was a challenging game (in Miami). Again, I feel good.

"We'll continue to always look out in free agency. And there are a lot of cuts that will be happening soon, so we'll always keep our eyes on the market to see if someone comes available that will help our depth."